In 1898 a group of local miners formed themselves into a committee to establish an association aimed at improving the social amenities of their fellow workers.
The original committee was formed in the long room of the Beaufort Arms hotel in Bridge Street, and the first task they set themselves was to find suitable accommodation to develop their activities.
The proprietor of a coffee tavern in the village allowed the committee the use of two rooms. Their first efforts were deemed quite successful, and as Newbridge grew as a mining community the scheme grew to.
Soon a workmen’s institute was envisaged, a type of social meeting place which was becoming very popular in the mining valleys at the time. Although many of the supporters were concerned about the financial risks involved, the stalwarts pressed on and secured the freehold site for £300.
Prominent in these negotiations were W.N.Jones, V.Phillips, H.Badge, and H.J.Thomas. They borrowed money to erect the building which was opened in 1908 by Mr.John Beynon the collieries owner. The architect was R.L.Roberts.
The Institute in 1907
It provided an extensive library, (with a librarian and assistant), billiards room, Committee room, and a reading room supplied with daily newspapers and journals.
It took the committee 14 years to pay back it’s mortgage.
In 1924 an additional building was added to the Institute, called the Memorial Hall.
This photograph was taken at the foundation stone laying ceremony. The people pictured are committee members, trustees and local dignitariesThe event was also attended by the now, knighted, Sir John Beynon C.B.E.(centre of front row in light grey coat) The architect was E.D.T. Jenkins. Builder & Contractor was Ewart Evans
The ‘Memo’, as it became affectionately known, provided both a picture house and dance hall, along with stage and dressing room facilities.
It quickly became a new social focus point in Newbridge, taking over where the old ‘Grand” picture house and reading rooms in Bridge Street left off. The first film to be shown was ‘The Thief of Bagdad’.
In the difficult years of the depression, the doors were rarely closed. Each afternoon, workless miners were entertained by concert parties who either gave their services free, or put on performances to raise funds for charities.
Mr. Harold Jones joined the staff at the Memo in 1924 as cashier, and later became manager when Mr. Frank Thomas died.
Stute & Memo
Mr Harold Jones was responsible for executing the schemes promoted by the committee. These schemes have brought first-class artists to the Memo stage.
Mrs.Novello Davies, Webster Booth, Anne Ziegler, Owen Brannigan, John Hargraves, accompanist Gerald Moore, have all appeared at concerts organised on Sunday evenings to raise money for local charities.
Charity Ball at the Memo early 1930’s Abercarn Welsh ‘ In aid of the Royal Gwent Hospital.
Abercarn Welsh Church Dramatic Society at the Memo 1939 production of ‘A Hundred Years’
Society at the Memo 1939.Immediately after the war, Newbridge and the Memo, became prominent as a centre for amateur drama. Many of the leading companies in South Wales and the West of England competed in competitions held there. To adjudicate at the drama festivals the committee brought in critics likeAllen Dent and Leonard Cranford from the memorial theatre Stratford. It was during this period of time that Donald Houston appeared in a production of Ibsen’s “Ghosts” and the Welsh Playwright E.Eynon Evans produced and acted in several of his plays, which afterwards became radio favourites. Those were the days when local people would queue all night for tickets. On entering the old cinema hall I was amazed by it’s size. Light struggles through the partially boarded windows, but sadly it was far too dark to take photos. Plaster is falling off the walls everywhere, and the place is riddled with damp.
Officers and committee members 1959
But still the grandeur of the picture house is still evident, the lovely wooden floor, hand painted fresco panels on the walls, the tastefully decorated bow ceiling; this really must have been some place in it’s heyday.
The seats from the ‘circle’ have been taken out and piled up for storage on the balcony, probably during the occupancy of the film crew who recently used the hall as a film set for an S4C film production.
A few sad looking theatrical lights hang lifeless above the empty stage, bordered by some tatters of curtains.I stood in the old cinema feeling great sadness that such a wonderful place should become abandoned and fall into such disrepair.
So many memories of so many people from Newbridge must be tied up with this building, but now it was left to rot and decay like some unwanted monstrosity.